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War Economy

Co-ordination Attempts Before the War

page 391

Co-ordination Attempts Before the War

FEW industries have such a potential for duplication and waste as the transport industry. Fittingly, the industry in New Zealand has received more attention from co-ordinators and would-be co-ordinators than has any other industry. The legislative provision for co-ordination, when war broke out, was a Transport Licensing Act, passed in 1931, which was designed to ‘regulate road motor transport with a view to securing co-ordination between it and other forms of transport, and to secure its organisation from the standpoint of maximum utility’. Co-ordinating powers under the Act had, by amendment, been vested in the Minister of Transport. All passenger vehicles, including taxis, had to be licensed, as had virtually all goods services operating for hire or reward. An important objective of licensing was to prevent unnecessary duplication of services. In particular, the number of road operators offering passenger or goods services over any route was restricted, especially if they were running parallel to the railway.

The war, bringing with it supply difficulties and manpower shortages, emphasised the need for efficiency and co-ordination in transport facilities. Government action was taken quickly. Overseas shipping came under the control of the British Ministry of War Transport from the outbreak of war, while, in New Zealand, the Naval Board was given control of coastal shipping. Petrol rationing was introduced with equal promptitude, and essential road users were required to have coupons or licences to use petrol. Powers were taken to impress motor vehicles, to control aircraft and to restrict transfers of registry of British or New Zealand ships.

Later in the war, shortages of shipping and the necessity for quick loading and turn-round of such shipping as was available page 392 gave added emphasis to the need for full co-ordination of all transport arrangements, internal and external.

Petrol shortages hampered road transport for most of the war period, while losses of overseas ships and the transfer of coastal vessels to naval and other uses required the utmost economy in the use of merchant shipping. Growing wartime demands for coal and reduced coal imports led to shortages which restricted the increasingly overworked rail transport system.

Coastal shipping around New Zealand was so drastically reduced by the requisitioning of vessels for naval purposes that it became necessary to shift timber workers from the more plentiful South Island forests to the North Island, where most camp construction work was done, to avoid using shipping to move timber from south to north.

The need for co-ordination of transport under war conditions had been foreseen before the war. In September 1938 an Internal Transport Sub-Committee had been established under the National Supply Council of the Organisation for National Security. This Committee was to ‘Consider the best means of coordinating transport to maintain essential services and conserve fuel, and to survey the stocks of essential supplies that the industry would require in the event of emergency.’ Later, the Sub-Committee gave way to a Transport Industry Committee, which was to plan for the use of road transport in emergency and to prepare a scheme for petrol rationing.

In peace, New Zealand had tended to be oversupplied with internal transport facilities but, in war, curtailments caused by shortages of petrol and coal were to make this a happy memory. Labour shortages and industrial unrest in the mines, on the waterfront, and elsewhere were to add to wartime difficulties.